Pop culture has painted a very particular picture of birth and the moment you meet your baby. Exhausted, sweaty, yet somehow glowing and perfectly groomed (even her hair looks artfully bedraggled), the new mother reaches for her infant (usually played by, like, a five month old) and beams pure love. I'm not going to say that's inaccurate (minus the whole looking awesome and delivering a five month old thing), but the fact that this is the only reaction a new mom has. What it really feels like to meet your baby for the first time can, and usually is, a far cry from the cinematic depictions we're used to.
After the birth of my first, I was elated. He cried a righteously pissed off cry (story of his five year life in seven words, by the way) and then was quiet for about a day, just taking it all in. And, very shortly thereafter, in addition to the overwhelming love I felt, another feeling that became almost as powerful crept in. A feeling of "Well, OK. Now what?" A feeling of being legitimately confused by how mundane and not life-changing everything felt. Then again, maybe it was all so life-changing that if I felt it all at once I would have freaked out and my brain was shielding me from too much all at once. I remember it was similar to when I got married, if I'm being honest. The simultaneous swell of, "This is everything" and the bewilderment of, "This is it?!"
I asked other moms to share their first reactions to their babies and, as predicted, there's so much more than we see in a television set's delivery room.
"Honestly, mine was, 'Oh. He's not very cute....' Luckily, once his face un-smooshed in a few days, I changed my mind."
"With almost 2 years of going through infertility and in vitro, I couldn't believe I had just given birth to a beautiful baby girl. I remember crying, and in that first glance the 2 year struggle didn't seem so long anymore."
"Jesus Christ he looks like my Dad."
"I get jealous of other moms' experiences. Honestly, I was terrified and overwhelmed and not happy. I remember my first thought being that I had made a mistake. This changed quickly, but it still gets me upset that this was my first reaction to my first baby."
"'Oh it's you!' And then oddly missing him being in my belly even though he was right there."
"I literally screamed, 'He has red hair!' We had joked that he would be a red head the whole time."
"My first words were, 'Oh my god he has so much hair.'"
"The first thing I noticed was her vagina. We did not find out the sex, and as she was born I noticed she was a girl before the doctor could even announce it. I was so surprised, I had thought boy all along. My heart burst that I had a daughter."
"When [my son] was born, I thought I was going to actually explode with love. He was the absolute cutest baby I'd ever, ever seen."
"When my daughter was put into my arms the first thing I remember feeling was confused. After the months of pregnancy, the hours of labor, and the eternity of pushing, all of a sudden there was this tiny creature on my chest. I was completely dazed."
"It's such a cliche, but I loved him the moment I saw him. We'd already 'known' each other for months; he was my little buddy that tagged along with me everywhere. But when I saw his face, I thought, 'It's so great to meet you. I will love you forever." And I have, even when he's an a**hole (moms of kids under three, sorry to break it to you, but that's coming)."
"The first time were sure it was going to be a boy, and the doctor said, 'Congratulations, it's a girl!' Both my husband and I said, 'WHAT?!?' And then I remember being surprised about how warm this weird beautiful slimy purple blob in my chest was. The second time, we were convinced it was another girl. The (same) doctor said, 'Congratulations, it's a boy!' And my husband and I said, 'WHAT?!?' As they whisked him away to check him (he was born at 35 weeks). I yelled at the doctor and said, 'Give me my baby! I need to see him before you take him away!' They obliged for about 10 seconds, during which time I remember thinking, 'Huh, he's warm and slimy, just like his sister.' And we cried because we were so relieved and scared all at the same time."
"With my first, as they laid him on my chest after pushing for what felt like forever, I remember thinking, 'How did I just do that? You came OUT OF ME??' And then I was in awe/love."
"I never felt the maternal instincts kick in during pregnancy. I had a miscarriage around 11 weeks just a few months before conceiving my oldest and a lot of that emotion was still pretty raw. My pregnancies were all very rough and difficult so I never got to enjoy them. So leading up to the day I gave birth I was anxious about whether I would love this baby, if I'd be a good mother — I'm pretty sure I had at least one panic attack over this. But when he arrived, and with all the commentary about his size (hearing 'He's huge!' from all directions while I'm strapped down during a c-section), when I finally saw him I laughed. Then I held him and everything was calm and simple. I never felt more relaxed."
"My first reaction was, 'Oh she's not a monkey baby!!' I had been so afraid that she would be born covered in dark hair ... But she was fair and appropriately fuzzy. But more importantly, I didn't feel that instant bond, that 'love at first sight' feeling. And even though I was warned that I might not, it was still unsettling to me. She was this...thing. I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that she was mine. It was over 24 hours before I realized, as I sat in my hospital bed at midnight with her swaddled beside me, alone, that I hadn't freely cuddled and kissed her yet. Everything I'd done with her to that point was perfunctory. Hold her, show her to people, change her diaper, learn to nurse her, learn to swaddle her, hand her to a nurse, give her a pacifier, pose for pictures... So in the glow of the TV in my dark room, I picked up the tiny package that was her, sniffed her head, kissed her nose, and suddenly I didn't want to put her down. Ever. And even so, it took me a little longer to really see her as MINE, my child. She was still sort of a 'thing,' that I had no idea what to do with. It took about 2 weeks or so for me to feel like I was 'supposed to' towards her."
"We were expecting [our son] to be less than 4 pounds. When he was born emergency c-section 3 weeks early, when I first saw him, I was blown away at how big he looked and could not believe he came out of me. He was only 5 pounds 5 ounces, but was puffy and swollen. Wasn't expecting that. He also sounded like a duck when he was crying. I was crying when I heard him crying. It was such a relief knowing my baby was born crying. Since having late loss/stillborn, two years earlier, I can not begin to explain the overwhelming feeling of relief and happiness hearing my baby cry for the very first time."
"I had a really long hard pregnancy (lots of medical complications) and then my labor was painfully natural (the anesthesiologist refused to do an epidural on me because of a past surgery — but before they made that decision there was lots of poking, testing, etc). When my daughter finally came, I was so exhausted and in so much pain that I kind of wanted a few moments to myself. I think it's a huge disservice to women everywhere that there's one 'right' way to feel about your baby — that it always has to be love at first sight and that everything else goes away.
I think it's important that women understand that there are lots of different emotions that you feel and that it's OK. I got to know my daughter over the next few hours, days, weeks, months, years and am still getting to know her. I obviously, without question, love her completely. But what you feel when you meet your baby for the first time is a factor of so many things — your personality, your partner's personality, your pregnancy experience, your delivery experience, and even your expectations. I've never heard another woman say anything other than 'It was love at first time' or something along those lines and I've always felt a little shamed by my initial 'I need a few minutes for myself' reaction. I'm sure I can't be the only one who's felt that way but I guess it might be another one of those 'mom guilt' things that we just never say because it makes us feel like horrible people."
[Writer's note: Well Marcie, and all the other Marcies out there, whose story bucks cultural expectation, as you can see from the many reactions here you are certainly not alone. There's absolutely not one way to feel about bringing a baby into the world. So share your stories, because more people than you realize may see themselves in it!]